Overcoming Time Wasters at the Job Site

Consider these techniques that you can integrate into your own approach to maximizing the amount of time spent by workers working.

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A few years ago, the Center for Construction Engineering and Management at the University of Michigan conducted a time study to determine the amount of time construction workers are waiting to work.  The average time lost waiting for equipment, materials, tools, and information varied among the construction disciplines.

Bricklayers waited on average about 45 minutes, carpenters about 62 minutes, roofers about 75 minutes, electricians about 80 minutes, and plumbers about 83 minutes.  While these times are not necessarily indicative of the time your people may spend waiting for materials, or equipment, or directions everyday (hopefully not!) this time study does raise an important issue. Waiting on jobs costs both the contractor and the customer.

Consider how much time each day your crews are simply waiting?  What are the causes for such waiting?  Let’s examine a few causes in this article and calculate a possible cost for the waiting period. We’ll then offer some time management tips in the following article.

First, let’s consider possible reasons that would cause anyone in our organization, directly involved with completing work, to be found waiting.

  • Equipment breakdown
  • Employees late to work
  • Gassing up vehicles/putting water in roller
  • Late delivery of pre-arranged materials
  • Job-site not accessible or prepared
  • Owner didn’t unlock premises
  • Emptied out current inventory of supplies
  • Employee forgot important tool or equipment
  • No directions available to job-site
  • Crew waiting for supervisor to return from lunch

The reasons for any work delay are numerous.  While the reasons can vary from day to day the costs incurred remains painfully consistent.  It is easy to state that you can never replace lost time. “Down-time” in construction, for any reason, normally costs you, the contractor money and is not recoverable from the customer.

What are the costs associated with having workers waiting around? Well, let’s take a look at one situation that can provide you with a method to calculate the financial costs for waiting for work to begin or resume.

Consider a paving contractor who suddenly finds his five-man crew without asphalt to lay. There was a mix-up in the directions given to the driver and the crew is standing around for one hour before the material shows up. Let’s do a potential calculation of the costs incurred by the contractor having five workers standing around for one hour.


5 Workers X 1 Hour Waiting = 5 Total Man-Hours Spent Waiting

Average Hourly Rate = $30.00 Per Hour (Fully Burdened Rate)

5 Hours X $30.00 Per Hour = $150.00

Our cost for having labor waiting on materials is $150.00.  Are there other costs? That depends on the step in the process.  For example, if the crew needed this missing material to finish out a section, then the hour wait might cause there to be a visible seam between the previous pad and the soon to be laid pad.

You might think that one mistake costing one-hundred and fifty dollars is no big deal.  And you’re right, sort of, if this only happened occasionally.  Unfortunately, problems like this can shift for one reason or another, leaving employees waiting around for five minutes here and fifteen minutes there. 

One more calculation worth noting. Let’s imagine that every employee you have spends approximately 60 minutes a day looking for “stuff.”  The stuff could represent things like brooms, brushes, tips, directions, phone numbers, hammers, extension cords, rakes, spades, safety tape, timecards, etc.  Now, consider that you have ten employees with an average hourly rate of $20.00.  Let’s calculate the average cost for one year.

10 Employees X 60 Minutes/Day X 300 Workdays/Year = 180,000 Minutes/Year

180,000 Minutes/Year ÷ 60 Minutes/Hour = 3,000 Total Man-Hours/Year

3,000 Man-Hours/Year X $20.00/Hour = $60,000.00/Year


Therefore, by having each employee looking for “stuff” for only sixty minutes per day, we can experience $60,000.00 in fewer profits for the year.  While this amount may not be terribly great for some contractors, it is still a cost that is paid due to poor organization and planning.  If your company is larger, refigure the numbers to determine what your potential costs would be. 

We can only imagine what all of the waiting around is robbing from our organization during the course of a year.  Contractors must do a better job of not only providing more clear direction and instruction but also involving their workers in learning how to determine direction for themselves.

Consider a few techniques below that you can integrate into your own approach to maximizing the amount of time spent by workers working.

Develop a Weekly “Look Ahead” Schedule

This weekly planner should be completed by the Friday before the next week. This tool should identify what jobs will be performed, what resources will be needed, what day the work will be performed, and who will be completing the work.

Conduct Daily “Huddles”

Each day should begin with a short but informational meeting. This meeting is to remind and clarify for everyone who is doing what; when; and how.  Huddles should be five to fifteen minutes. This also acts as a verbal daily planner.

Make Important Telephone Numbers Available

Contractors and their supervisors should not be the only employees with critical telephone numbers. A laminated card of all-important numbers can be provided to each employee or copies attached to each company vehicle. Not having the right telephone numbers at the exact time they are needed adds greatly to the time waste experienced by most workers.

Job-Cost & Track Performance

Both efforts not only help you to improve performance but also work to keep more workers educated about what they are doing, what they will need to do it, and how they will go about doing it. Both efforts drive greater accountability and enhance the focus of your employees.  Much of the reason behind time waste lies in the lack of attention to detail that some employees exercise.

Create Job Tools & Materials List

This should represent a document that can be completed for every job. The document should itemize every tool and material needed to complete the intended job.

Make Preventive Maintenance a Company Priority

Equipment that runs without breaking down will mean more profits and happier employees. The machine or truck that breaks down every other week tends to wear the employees out, casting doubt in their minds about your commitment to helping them work without problems. Put all your equipment and vehicles on a preventive maintenance schedule and watch how much more work you experience being completed.

“Stage” Your Job-Site at the End of Each Day

Do you need diesel in the vehicle before starting up again tomorrow? Fill up before calling it quits today. Need hand tools and lumber loaded on your trailer before pulling out of your shop in the morning? Have everything loaded on the trailer bed tonight before you send the troops home.  Getting the job or work site ready for the next day’s performance will save you time the following morning and warn you if you are missing anything. If you’re short anything you still have the evening to pull the needed items together before beginning the next morning.

So many of the techniques presented in this article are common sense. Still, I find so many contractors who allow their crews to become lazy when it comes time to holding their employees accountable to be prompt, organized, and clean.  Integrate the techniques shared here into your own leadership.